Album review: Live Foyn Friis: Running Heart (CLP CD 138)

LiveFoynFriisRunningHeartI have enjoyed Norwegian born, Denmark-based singer songwriter Live Foyn Friis’s charming, quirky voice (it is clear and natural with a delicate vibrato) and poetic lyrics for a while. The fact that she continues with her top notch band on her album Running Heart is an added attraction. She is joined by Alex Jønsson on guitar (and Thom Yorke-like vocals too), Jens Mikkel on bass and Andreas Skamby on percussion, with layers added by a cello (played by Maria Isabel Edlund), kalimba, organ, additional vocals and a euphonium. The wonderful thing about Scandinavian jazz-pop-electronica is that they are not afraid to play under-used instruments like banjos (in this case, a euphonium and kalimba), and the catchiness of tunes disguises complex interesting music which belies the label “pop”.  Her band all played with great gusto and joy on I Think You’re Awesome and do so again here with her.

More electronic than her other work Live Foyn Friis with Strings, this album of own compositions, all love songs, is sophisticated, dark and haunting.  Live has many projects from Big Band to Foyn Trio! (improvised pop) and an enviable list of bands and collaborations. She is touring South America now, and her website mentions a tour of Angola in 2017.  The battery of sounds and effects creates an ethereal, fairytale disorientation which will go down very well in large venues, and it would be great to see her in the UK.

Running Heart is released on Curling Legs.

Mary James  17 January 2015

Album review: Roller Trio: Fracture (released December 2014)

Roller_Trio_FractureJust three words will do – stonking unforgettable tunes! But more than that – the long-awaited second album, Fracture, from Mercury Prize and MOBO nominated Roller Trio was worth the wait and the band can be rightly very proud of it.  The album is beautifully structured, with early tracks sounding like Roller Trio of old (cracking good tunes, lightning riffs, snappy changes of tempo, crashes and growls, that unmistakable warm sound) moving on to some more abstract pieces which have a serenity of mood and togetherness at their core that is very beautiful.  The ghostly and menacing  Low Tide  is surely destined to be expanded into a movie soundtrack?   They can slow it right down as in the pulsating, shimmering Tracer where the space allows you to savour each instrument and sound effect.

Roller_Trio_by_Tom_Thiel1Play this album loud! And see them live, like Portico before them, they are made for large venues – we probably won’t ever again see Saturn V rocket take-offs  for the moon – but Roller Trio are the next best thing for sending a shiver down your spine!

★★★★★

Mary James 12 January 2015

Album review: Jef Neve: One (released October 2014)

Jef_Neve_OneSolo piano albums are precious and a landmark for the artist.  And this one, One by Jef Neve is no exception, with seven impassioned own compositions and fresh interpretations of well known material such as Lush Life.

Jef Neve took master classes with Brad Mehldau, and there is something of Brad Mehldau’s emotional intensity to this beautiful album, just as there is in Jef’s live performance as I noted in my gigs of 2014, where the joy of performance and communication was very moving and direct. Jef creates walls of dense shimmering sound that do not overwhelm, as in his exciting interpretation of Lush Life.  There are compositions which move for their lovely melodies such as Solitude and Could It Be True.  And as for Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You - it is quite heartbreakingly beautiful, sensitive and delicate.

It is no surprise to learn that Jef has written for several films – there is a cinematic feel to the unfolding of each composition.  Solitude, originally written for performance with 2 dancers, tells the story of a father-son relationship, of the son yearning to break away, and finally caring for his Dad. The pianos (3 different ones across 2 continents, with most tracks recorded on a Yamaha CFX Concert Grand at Abbey Road Studios) all sound amazing.  Jef Neve deserves to be heard more frequently in the UK, but as he embarks on a world tour in January 2015, the UK is probably off the map for a while.  I am glad I saw him when I did and I will enjoy this album for a very long time.

Album review: John Law: These Skies In Which We Rust (released Dec 2014)

JohnLawJohn Law’s latest New Congregation double CD release These Skies In Which We Rust certainly fulfills the promise heard earlier this year at The Forge and in John’s electronic project Boink!   The New Congregation members may have changed, Laurie Lowe takes Asaf Sirkis’ place, Josh Arcoleo joins on sax but thankfully Yuri Goloubev remains. In short, dizzyingly beautiful tunes, magical effects and perfect playing make this my runner-up for Album of 2014.   

Ambitious in scope – 11 own compositions with inspiration from his daughter’s poetry, elements of Brahms’ Requiem, tricky time signatures and electromagnetic pulses from outer space – individually the pieces can make your blood run cold (just let your mind go back to how you felt on 9/11 when you listen to Incarnadine Day inspired by the poem of that name by John’s daughter Holly) or transport you to a magical place with just one note of the glockenspiel.  As always with John Law, there is breathtaking piano, he’s our 21st century Bach, cinematic tunes that grab you instantly, lyricism propelled by the lightning fast fingering and sublime sense of romance of Goloubev, the controlled seething, fizzing drums of Lowe.  A fresh sound in the New Congregation is Josh Arcoleo whose sax adds coolness and irony in Music of the Night.  The final track I Hold My Soul To The Wind features lovely wordless vocals from Holly Law (whose poem may have the voice of a teenager but has universal poignancy) and heartbreaking bass. The sound and mixing from Curtis Schwartz at Berry House Studios, Ardingly is perfect.

Album available from John

★★★★★

Mary James   28 December 2014

Gigs of 2014

Maciek Pysz_Pizza ExpressOver the past year I have gradually moved from being “just” a member of the audience to an active promoter for a small jazz club and I’m the booking agent for a jazz musician.   And this has had quite an effect on how I experience live music.   I now know just how hard it is to get gigs, how a malfunctioning monitor means a musician cannot hear himself or anyone else,  how not wearing your earplugs as a drummer is to risk serious damage to your eardrums. All of these things, and more, make me marvel at the musicians I have heard this year.     So here are a few sketches of many happy hours:

Marius Neset in Brecon Cathedral in August.  The sheer effort of Marius’s performance –  seeing him gasp like a marathon runner, his body almost doubled over as he tried to take in air after filling the vaults with incredible blood curdling sound.  A friend overheard to say “I don’t mind I never saw John Coltrane, because now I  have seen Marius Neset.”

Jef Neve , solo, at Kings Place in November.   A performance that moved me very much, especially Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, a song  which Jef said had saved his life several times.  His simple heartfelt introductions to each song, like we were in his living room, enhanced the enjoyment.   His album One  is on my Christmas list.

Maciek Pysz at Pizza Express in March with Yuri Goloubev, Asaf Sirkis and Tim Garland.   Reviewed here.  And remembered most for the achingly beautiful Beneath an Evening Sky by Ralph Towner with duo between Tim and Maciek.

Phronesis at Union Chapel in May.  Clouds of dry ice softening our view in a huge venue, Anton’s smile when he saw friends on the front row. Jasper’s jokes. The sheer joy and energy of it, a wonderful huge sound, the retention of intimacy in a big space.

 Michael Wollny at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in April.    I decided not to listen to anything by him before the gig, I had heard of his reputation, but I wanted to discover him for myself. So I was completely blown away by his virtuosity,  huge presence and the togetherness of his trio, and the way I just “got” the music, from plain chant to rock.  He did not disappoint.  It’s great to be able to write that.

Roller Trio at Stratford Jazz in October.    It was such an honour to host Mercury Prize winners.   It’s not just that they write such catchy tunes, instantly hummable, their own sound.    It’s how they are on stage – no-nonsense, let’s get on with it and see what happens and let’s make sure people enjoy it because we will be enjoying it.  Banks of pedals in front of James.   Sounds that made your blood run cold with excitement and fear almost.  Luke’s drumming that could be heard down the street.

All these performances have one thing in common – they moved me, my life was richer because of them, and that is why they are my gigs of 2014.   Thank you, every one.

Mary James 16 December 2014

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